Thursday, April 19, 2012
Stephen Merritt @ Sound Academy: photo by Michael Ligon
Sorry for the lateness of this posting. I'll first point you towards The National Post, Sticky Magazine, and The Panic Manual who were also at the show.
Can I say I both enjoyed the show but was disappointed. The Magnetic Fields last played Toronto in February of 2010 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, a show I enjoyed very much. But before I get to this current performance, it was New Zealand artist Annabel Alpers who goes by the moniker Bachelorette opening up the show to maybe a half full venue. I'd arrive with her already a bit into her set. At first I didn't think much of it, but soon I started to enjoy her brand of electro-pop which seamed to be a seamless mix between the icy-cool synth-pop of Ladytron with the Krautrock / drone influence of bands like Stereolab and Broadcast, Alpers vocals in the same deadpan vein as Broadcast's late Trish Keenan or Ladytron vocalist Helen Marnie. With computer generated images projected behind it was fitting visuals for Miss Alpers mathematically-precise tunes.
But back to The Magnetic Fields. It was bound to be a letdown, the band this time around playing the dreaded Sound Academy, a venue that required it's audience to stand [unless I guess if you were in the second level VIP section] and whose acoustics were no where close to the acoustics at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The occasion of their trip to the city this time around was the recent release of their new album entitled Love at the Bottom of the Sea with a bevy of great song titles like "Andrew in Drag", "The Horrible Party", and "I've Run Away to Join the Fairies" all included in the band's new-album heavy setlist. With the same / similar acoustic setup(piano, guitar, cello, ukelele, etc.) as their previous show in Toronto back in 2010, the band played delicately with lead vocal duties traded from song to song between Stephen plus members Claudia Gonson, and Shirley Simms, with Merritt singing most of what most might consider his 'depressing' songs while, Gonson seemed to have the more humourous ones [eg. "Quick"] and Simms adding a bit of twangy timbre to songs like the wonderful "Plant White Roses". On comparison to their previous Toronto show in 2010 there was less banter between songs, which in my opinion detracted from the overall enjoyment of the show. As Merritt cheekily exclaimed at one point between songs in his deadpan baritone "Here's another depressing song". It was purely sarcastic remark but on the other hand, without the banter to break up the pacing of the set, I couldn't help but feel the dreariness rear its head. If not for the pristine pop melodies, the whole set would just be a total downer. But then that dichotomous nature of The Magnetic Fields, who on a basic level, whose music can be described as depressing love songs and sunny pop melodies, is precisly what appeals to its audience. Nowadays, I feel the The Magnetic Fields have broadened their audience further than they have before, but in the past I'd say without a doubt that their audience consisted primarily of indiepop aficionados, music geeks, and other assorted misfits. To this last point, The Magnetic Fields is and will remain one of music history's greatest outsider bands. So overall a great set musically, though the comforts and acoustics of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre as well as the greater amount of banter at that show, were sorely missed this time around.
Photos: The Magnetic Fields, Bachelorette @ Sound Academy, Toronto (March 30, 2012)
MySpace: The Magnetic Fields